The simple original sketch
This week in illustration, I’ve been doing trials with digital brushes.
The main goal of pretty much all my art activity these days is to develop a working method/style that feels natural and can express whatever I most want to say. And since expression depends a lot on the kind of mark you make, I’m trying to get as familiar as I can with digital mark making. You might call this building a style from the ground up.
Inspired by one of Kyle Webster’s demo videos, I made a sheet of 16 copies of a character I draw a lot. (She has a name and a certain personality, but that’s a story for another day.) Duplicating is easy enough to do on Photoshop. I drew a sketch in digital pencil, copied and duplicated it, copied the two of them and duplicated, and so on until I had a full page. Then I created a mask for each figure in the same way, so I didn’t have to waste too much time cleaning up edges.
Then I got to work applying color. I wasn’t perfectionistic about either the sketch or the coloring. The whole point here was to discover the properties of a few of the hundreds (!) of digital brushes now available on Photoshop CC and figure out which ones were best suited to my working style. I wanted to concentrate particularly on dry media (charcoals, pastels) and opaque paint media (gouache, oil). And I was also interested in grainy effects. In the end, some of these brushes worked quite well for my purposes, and some obviously didn’t!
These trials that worked more or less like I expected, because they allow for a fair amount of control and also I am used to working in traditional oils.
Here are some of the things I was thinking about brushes while I worked:
- How tilt sensitive is each brush?
- Which brushes can handle the whole job and which will have to be supplemented with other brushes? (It turns out that some of the more porous ones really need to be used with another brush or a fill layer to render all the details legible.)
- At what size does each brush make the nicest stroke?
- With each brush, is it better to use different values of paint to put in highlights and shadows, or is it more effective to just vary the density and let the white of the “paper” show through?
- Does this brush require extra layers just to keep the marks from getting muddy too fast? (The mixer brushes, such as oils, usually do require extra layers that can then be merged.)
- The non-“mixer” brushes allow you to change the brush mode (upper left of the screen) to clear, which makes a sort of eraser with the same texture. Which brushes have the most workable “clear mode” erasers? (Remember to change the mode back to normal before continuing!)
- How can I use the brush stroke and either a “hard” or “soft” eraser to control lost and found edges?
- How do the brushes affect color intensity? (More than you’d think!)
- How might changing my tablet/pen sensitivity affect the marks? (I suspect I have a light touch, but it varies with the brush.)
Some trials that were somewhat pleasantly surprising even if I didn’t develop them as far as the others.
A side benefit of all this practice was that drawing my character over and over helped me think more about how she should look, even if I didn’t take her to full finish. Some things I was thinking about while I worked:
- Which subtle variations of features, and which brushes, are best suited to the character?
- How much modeling is even needed?
- How spontaneous can I be?
In search of grainy effects. Some of them I was pleased enough with that I might use them again some time. Others definitely not, but at least I found out!
This is definitely (Photo)shop talk But it does have a more organic significance. About 99% of drawing, and probably any other art, is being so familiar with your own processes that you feel confident in what you’re doing and thus comfortable improvising. Muscle memory plays a big part, of course, and for that, you just have to draw a lot. But there are plenty of other skills you can develop, from creative imagination to visual awareness to intellectual knowledge and theory to simply knowing your tools. All of them (in some form) are important to anyone who wants to be good at what they do.
Also, it helps me to see my own drawings published on my blog, because I see things more objectively that way. It’s like giving myself a mini-critique.
Which versions do you like best, or not? And why? If you don’t know why, feel free to state your opinion anyway. Sometimes intuition has some pretty good reasons of its own!